I really don’t mind doing the laundry, it is the folding I can’t stand. Especially when my toddler tries to help and unfolds everything I just folded. But I am here to talk about getting your clothes totally clean all while making doing laundry safer for you and really anyone that wears clothes. Even for fish.
Non-toxic products will actually keep your clothes cleaner for longer and keep them smelling fresher. Plus they are better for your health and better for the environment.
Most laundry detergents, fabric softeners and dryer sheets contain chemicals that stick to your clothes. Some of the chemicals are what keeps the fragrance in your clothing and others are just part of the detergents like optical whiteners. This chemical concoction builds up on your clothing. Eventually dirt and smells stick to your clothes and cause your clothing to look, feel and smell not so clean. It can also break down your fabrics over time. This problem can be exacerbated when you use too much laundry detergent or you overload your machine and your clothes do not get rinsed well. A dirty washing machine can make matters worse too.
But it isn’t just about having clean clothes. It is also about protecting your health. Toxic chemicals in your laundry products can cause many health issues from asthma to skin irritation and even possibly cancer or endocrine disruption. Unfortunately, most of the chemicals in laundry products have not ever been safety tested (sound familiar?) nor have they been tested when combined.
The most difficult part is that laundry product manufacturers are not required to list the ingredients on the packages. There is little to no regulation of the chemicals in laundry products. This makes it incredibly difficult for consumers to figure out which products are safe.
Ingredients to avoid in laundry detergent:
Fragrance: We have talked about fragrance before. Fragrance is a trade secret and can be comprised of hundreds of different toxic chemicals. Many are phthalates and are endocrine disruptors. Endocrine disruptors mimic, block and alter hormone levels in the body-also called hormone disruptors. The Endocrine system regulates ALL biological processes in the body. This includes: the brain and nervous system, the reproductive system, metabolism and sugar levels, ovaries, testes, pituitary, thyroid, and the adrenal glands. Endocrine disruption is especially scary for our children as they are still growing and developing. Even products labeled “fragrance free” may still contain synthetic fragrances. Moreover, other toxic chemicals can still be found in products labeled fragrance free.
Optical-whiteners: These are additives in your laundry detergent. They are what makes white appear whiter. I say appear because it is actually an optical illusion. If something advertises “brighter whites” beware. These chemicals have been linked to developmental and reproductive issues. In order for the illusion to work, the optical brightening chemicals must stick to your clothing. If they stick to your clothing, they also sink into your skin. Look for and avoid: naphthotriazolystilbenes, benzoxazolyl, diaminostilbene disulfonate, ER, KSN, OB, OB-1.
Bleach (sodium hypochlorite): Yes, bleach. We don’t use it. There are plenty of ways to kill germs without the use of toxic chemicals. Don’t let those commercials scare you. It’s known to irritate eyes, the upper respiratory tract, lungs, and skin. It is also causing environmental damage. When it mixes with wastewater, it can form toxic organic compounds (organochlorines) that have been linked with reproductive, neurological, respiratory issues, liver, and kidney damage and may lead to cancer. It can obviously be found in bleach products but may also be included in your detergents. Bleach is involved in more household poisonings than any other product.
Cleaning Agents: Many cleaning agents are toxic petrochemicals. They are what manufacturers use to make the clothes cleaner. Many of these chemicals have been banned in other countries-but not here (surprise surprise). Nonylphenol Ethoxylate (NPE) is one of those cleaning chemicals that has been banned in Canada and the European Union. NPE is an endocrine disruptor.
Our current water treatment facilities are unable to get rid of NPE’s, a huge issue because NPEs actually become more toxic as they remain in our environment. The Sierra Club report shows that 61% of tested waters contain NPEs, and at a concentration of less than one part per billion (ppb), NPEs adversely affect aquatic life.
Other toxic cleaning agents include; Quanternium-15 is a formaldehyde releaser which is a known carcinogen, diethanolamine is linked with skin and eye irritation and kidney and liver problems as well as developmental and reproductive toxicity in animal studies, linear alkyl benzene sulfonates or LAS can irritate the skin and eyes and is toxic to aquatic life. The US Department of Health and Human Services classifies benzene as a known human carcinogen, and petroleum distillates are linked to cancer and lung damage.
1,4 Dioxane: You won’t ever see this listed on any ingredient label. That is because it isn’t really an ingredient. It is a chemical contaminant by-product of detergent manufacturing. It is found in laundry products, shampoos and cosmetics. The EPA and US Department for Health both agree that it is a likely carcinogen.
A test by Women’s Voices for Earth found 1,4 dioxane in many popular laundry detergents, including Tide Free and Gentle. Tide has since said they have changed their formulation so it will no longer present at a rate above 25ppm. How about no ppm?
Phosphates and EDTA: Are used to reduce mineral hardness and make detergents more effective in hard water. They both can cause severe environmental damage. They can cause toxic algae blooms in waterways that damage ecosystems by robbing the water and aquatic life of all-important oxygen.
Phosphates stimulate the growth of certain marine plants, which contributes to unbalanced ecosystems. Some states have banned or restricted the use of phosphates, and some detergents may advertise they are "low-phosphate" or "phosphate-free."
EDTA (ethylene-diamino-tetra-acetate): Besides reducing mineral hardness, it also prevents bleaching agents from becoming active before they are put in water and works as a foaming stabilizer. EDTA does not readily biodegrade and can re-dissolve toxic heavy metals in the environment, allowing them to re-enter the food chain.
Stabilizers: These chemicals help stabilize the detergent formula, so that it lasts longer on the shelf. Examples include polyalkylene oxide or ethylene oxide, which are linked with eye and lung irritation, and even dermatitis.
Once again this is not a complete list of all chemicals found in detergents. This is just the most common. There are thousands of chemicals on the market today and most have never been tested. They could be in your laundry detergent.
Fabric Softeners and Sheets: I could write an entire blog on the dangers of fabric softeners.
Fabric softeners not only stick the toxic chemicals to your clothing but they are responsible for more indoor air pollution than any other product on the market. I get it, they smell divine. But at what cost? They are known to cause asthma and allergic reactions and can contain endocrine disruptors or carcinogens just like detergents. I am going to attach a few articles about the angers of fabric softeners.
You might say, “So what if the chemicals in laundry products are toxic, I am not putting them on my skin". Oh contraire…you are! These chemicals absorb into your skin from just wearing your clothing. Your regular body heat helps the chemicals to absorb into your skin. Furthermore, they are toxic to breath in while you are using them and devastating to the environment. Many people have skin sensitivities and don’t realize it could be from their laundry products. People with Eczema and Psoriasis should be especially careful. Not to mention these products are poison hazards for children in your home.
We can’t talk about safe products without also addressing greenwashers. Greenwashers are companies that market or advertise in a way that makes you believe their products are safe, natural or organic. An example in the laundry category would be products labeled hypoallergenic, free and clear, or products targeted to babies. These products are generally NOT non-toxic! Most are still loaded with the nasty chemicals.
And yes, even Dreft is horrible. It is not any better than regular tide. They just have an incredible marketing campaign that makes you think it is the safest product for babies. It actually really pisses me off. Do not be fooled!
There are amazing alternative products on the market that are safe for you and the environment and still get your clothes clean-and keep them cleaner longer.
How to get clean clothes:
Start by thoroughly washing your washing machine. The easiest way is to run some washes just using distilled white vinegar and hot water. (Don’t put vinegar in your bleach reservoir if you have used bleach in there recently). This will help break up the tacky stuff that has covered the inside of your washing machine drum (front or top load). You may have to clean the drum itself using a sturdy scrub brush and then clean the creases in the rubber with a cloth if you have a front loader. Don’t forget to clean the agitator if you have one. Cleaning your machine not only gets rid of the soap scum but any lingering bacteria in the machine.
Mildew can buildup in machines causing clothing to take on a moldy smell. Don't solely blame your front loader for this. Front loaders can exacerbate the issue but the main problem is your detergents toxic chemicals (soap scum) mucking up the areas and causing the odor to stick to the parts of your washer. Yes, you should also keep it dry and keep the washer door open between washes (as long as you don't have children that will climb in).
Many newer washers have little doors near the bottom or on the side where you can open them and drain some of the water out that is remaining in the machine. Check your machine’s manual. I think mine tells me to do this every few months.
Once your machine is clean, it will take some time to get the old toxic stuff out of your clothes. To help this along you can soak your clothing in distilled white vinegar. If your clothing already smells mildewy, you will definitely need to soak your clothing in vinegar. This will help break up the chemicals embedded in your clothing that are holding those odors in and it will kill the odors. If they are really bad, you may have to do it multiple times. Sometimes they are too far gone though and may need to be tossed and replaced. You can alternate soaking in baking soda and water too. Just don’t mix the vinegar and baking soda.
I always add a half of a cup of distilled vinegar to every wash load. Distilled vinegar is super inexpensive and does so many amazing things for your laundry! It helps rid clothing of odors (including mildew), gets rid of chemicals from manufacturing in new clothing, it helps whiten clothes and brighten and protect colors, and it actually works as a natural fabric softener! Vinegar makes me want to yell: “Screw you toxic chemicals! My laundry doesn't need you!”
You can also use a 1/2 cup of baking soda in your rinse cycle to brighten whites and get rid of odors (but again, don’t mix it with the vinegar).
My favorite products:
Now, you need a good non-toxic detergent. I am using Honest Company detergent. It works great and you can buy it in bundles online or even at Target.
Side note: There has been a bit of controversy regarding the Honest Company detergent. I feel confident that The Honest Company laundry products are safe. Jessica Alba and Honest are standing by the safety of their products. However they are changing the formulation so there will never be any doubt in the future. See an article about the issue here: http://www.today.com/home/jessica-alba-s-honest-company-under-fire-laundry-detergent-ingredient-t79551 Although The Honest Company has come under fire a few times, I love what Alba and her company are trying to do and believe they are doing an incredible job of making safer products available to the masses as well as making people aware of the issue of toxic chemicals in personal care and cleaning products (and even tampons!). Unfortunately, Alba has a target on her back due to her notoriety and the fact that regular toxic manufacturers want to stop her (and they have billions of dollars and unlimited resources to do whatever it takes to make her look bad).
A great resource for laundry detergents is The Environmental Working Group. EWG is a non profit that rates personal care and cleaning products. Their ratings are not perfect as they are understaffed and have so many products to review. However, it is a great guide when looking for new products. This is especially true with cleaning products because most do not list ingredients. And just because a company makes a safe laundry detergent does not mean all of their products are safe-so always double check ingredients or the EWG. You can find the following ratings guide here:
Molly’s Suds help maintain the integrity of my workout clothing while getting it super clean. Molly (there really is a Molly and it is an awesome story of how a company was born-https://mollyssuds.com/our-story/) also makes other products that are equally incredible-like cloth diaper wash and regular laundry powder. I would use it daily but it is a bit more expensive. Their products and this company are amazing!!
I highly recommend investing (I say that even though they are usually under $20) wool dryer balls. Don't fall for plastic or colored ones. You want real wool dryer balls. I prefer smart sheep wool dryer balls from mama moon boutique on amazon. They are a bit harder/stiffer than others I have bought-which I like. I put a few drops of my favorite essential oil on them and let them dry before popping them in the dryer. I put 3 in each load and it helps soften and reduces static and even reduces drying time. Each ball can last up to one year. These are my favorite alternative to fabric softener.
As far as stains go, my favorite option is Pure Haven Essentials Master Blaster. This stuff really works. It even works on pet stains and other stains on carpet and upholstery. A combo of baking soda and water can also help remove stains.
Making these simple switches will not only make your clothes cleaner and last longer but they will make you healthier and protect the environment. Now if I could only find someone to fold for me.